OSHA Proposes New Interpretation of "Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls" for Occupational Noise Exposure and General Industry Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing an official interpretation (pdf) of the phrase “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as it is used in the agency’s General Industry and Construction Occupational Noise Exposure standards. As explained in a summary to be published in tomorrow’s edition of the Federal Register, the above OSHA standards require employers to use administrative or engineering controls instead of personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposure that is above the acceptable level when such controls are feasible. Although feasibility encompasses both economic and technological considerations, OSHA explains that the instant interpretation addresses economic feasibility only. The agency seeks to clarify that “feasible” in this instance means “capable of being done” or “achievable.” OSHA states that it intends to revise its enforcement policy to reflect this clarification.

Currently, OSHA issues citations for failure to use engineering and administrative controls only when hearing protectors are ineffective or the costs of such controls are less than the cost of an effective hearing conservation program. According to the agency:

this policy is contrary to the plain meaning of the standard and thwarts the safety and health purposes of the OSH Act by rarely requiring administrative and engineering controls even though these controls are affordable and generally more effective than hearing protectors in reducing noise exposure. Accordingly, OSHA now proposes to consider administrative or engineering controls economically feasible when the cost of implementing such controls will not threaten the employer’s ability to remain in business, or if such a threat to viability results from the employer’s failure to meet industry safety and health standards.

Comments on the proposed interpretation are due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled for October 19, 2010. Comments may be submitted electronically through the federal eRulemaking portal: www.regulations.gov; via facsimile to the OSHA docket office at 202-693-1648 if the submission is no longer than 10 pages; or in writing to: OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA–2010-0032, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210. Written comments must be sent in triplicate, and all comments must contain the OSHA docket number: OSHA-2010-0032.

Photo credit:  tomazl

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.